The 10 things we learned this year

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Marketing and branding are the undoing of architecture. They’re the commodification of architecture. I always thought it was an ethical pursuit and an aesthetic pursuit. I still do.Stanley Tigerman

More than 50 years spent challenging Chicago’s architecture community have given Stanley Tigerman plenty of experience to lecture on. After building 175 buildings — including Skokie’s stunning Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center — Tigerman cautioned against the perils of getting too big and too old on the eve of receiving the top honor from the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “[The award] doesn’t mean I’m going to stop challenging them, for sure,” he promised. Aside from the honors, accomplishments, incredible last name, and 83 years of experience living though, there is one reason to listen to everything Tigerman says. The man sounds exactly like Tom Waits.

Terry Duffy’s story will never happen again

The chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange started as a runner in the hog pit, dragging himself up the ladder one fight at a time. “My story couldn’t happen today,” he told us back in June. “It doesn’t exist anymore.” With electronic trading replacing the need for runners, young and hungry people like Duffy don’t have an entry-level way to try out trading. Pour one out for the hog pit brawlers.

Businesses are like people. There’s a time when you’re in your ’20s and anything can happen. You don’t know enough to know what is difficult, and so you can go off and do anything you want. And then as the person gets to 40, the business gets older, you start thinking, okay I need to begin to consolidate what it is that I actually know and really make use of it to free myself up to do other things.Tony Magee

We learned a lot from Lagunitas founder Tony Magee when he sat down with Off Color Brewing founder John Laffler. He taught us to focus on the one thing we’re good at, rather than trying to do everything. He taught us that sometimes the boss is allowed to wake and bake. But mostly he taught us that business can be personal and still hugely, wildly successful.

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The average rent in Wicker Park is $380 more a month than the average rent in Lakeview

Grid spent almost a year collecting Chicago trivia of all sizes and sorts, leaving us with a lot of numbers to sort through for the most interesting facts. And while we’re maybe more amused to know that Old Town School of Folk Music’s core guitar students play “Midnight Special” 5,120 times a year, the high price of rent in Wicker Park is maybe a little more pertinent to other business interests. The average rental in Wicker Park will now run residents $2,175 per month, making it one of the priciest hoods in the city. And looking at what we know about its neighbor East Village, the trend toward high rents is spreading wildly through the near west side.

Some lawyers know attorneys can be jerks

When Daliah Saper sat down to tape her episode of Minority Report, it was pretty clear that she was not like most attorneys. For one, Saper was dressed casually enough to make host Micaela Brown question her own decision to wear a red power suit. For another, she’s a 33-year-old Iranian immigrant who runs her own tech savvy intellectual property law firm, Saper Law. Oh, and she’s already taken a case on catfishing in front of the Illinois Supreme Court. Given her credentials, she works hard to make sure that she remains approachable to the young startup founders and employees that make up a good chunk of her clients. She’s quick to admit that many of the attorneys she goes up against in the courtroom will try to win cases by “being a complete dick.” Rather than letting her get it down though, she uses it as a differentiator to sell her own amiable persona and respectful representation.

Grubhub and Seamless have the chance to be “obnoxiously big”

Grubhub co-founder Matt Maloney sat down to talk with us shortly after Grubhub’s merger with main competitor Seamless was announced this May. He was positively giddy with the possibilities for the combined company. “The market for takeout is $70 billion,” he said, but together GrubHub and Seamless would only potentially touch $1 billion of the market in 2013. The way he saw it, by combining Seamless’ strength in corporate accounts with Grubhub’s strength among consumers, the two could avoid duplicating efforts and instead increase their share of the takeout market. While the plan still hasn’t been fully realized, we’re excited to see where it goes in 2014.

“You’re probably more likely to walk out and see a unicorn on State Street than another Jim Reynolds.” –Jim Reynolds

Loop Capital founder and CEO Jim Reynolds knows that there aren’t many Englewood kids that go on to run investment banks. He talked to us in October about how pure luck kept him away from crime and allowed him to get an MBA and start his own company. He also explained how much more difficult his own escape would be today. “It’s different now … You either join a gang, or I have to have money, I have to figure out how to survive. We always ate … You really didn’t know what you didn’t have.”

It really does pay to diversify

When one hears that someone is investing in pizza, doughnuts, space travel and electric cars, one might think, “Hey, how did that five-year-old boy come up with the capital.” While the reaction is natural, Antonio Gracias, founder of Valor Equity Partners LP assured us that his seemingly scattershot approach to investing is all united by a common theme. “We have $5 pizzas, we have rockets that are way cheaper than our closest competitor,” Gracias says. “All of these businesses, if you think about it, are taking market share.” They’re also helping to keep Valor’s assets somewhere around $400 million, according to Grid estimates.

Work-life balance is a myth

American Bar Association president Laurel Bellows had one very simple answer when attorney Julia Williams asked her if work-life balance is really achievable. “No. It’s not. It’s so easy. The answer is so easy … Talking about work-life balance is fraud.” The Bellows Law Group principal went on to explain that the myth of work-life balance is harmful to young women who believe that Bellows does it all. When the firm was young, she took no vacations, and she said that she still wouldn’t if it weren’t for her support staff back at the office and her Blackberry by her side. While we talked a lot about work-life balance this year, Bellow’s interview really kicked off the conversation — and gave us one of the most definitive answers we received.

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Sometimes $60,000 a year can be a very good deal

Northwestern president Morton Schapiro confused a lot of Wildcats earlier this year when he started comparing his school’s high tuition with prison. “You look at the cost to incarcerate someone in California, and it’s $55,000 a year, and we have smaller classes and nicer rooms. And the food’s better.” While the Northwestern grad’s on staff might dispute his point about the food, he went on to explain that the actual cost of educating students runs the university around $80,000, essentially meaning each student receives a $20,000 subsidy from the school. So, yes, technically that would be a 25 percent discount. Still, the $60,000 price tag helps to explain why by Schapiro’s own admission, it’s perfectly normal for selective liberal arts colleges to see at least a third of students “come from very high up in the income distribution.”

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